Philadelphia Eagles undrafted rookie free agents

Rookie free agent signings by the Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles did a great job adding talent last year by acquiring quality undrafted rookie free agents. Three of the eagles undrafted rookies from last year are still on the roster today. Those players are running back Corey Clement, tight end Billy Brown and saftey Tre Sullivan. Clement went on to become a integral part of the offense and one of the heroes of Super Bowl LII.

This year, coaxing undrafted free agents to Philadelphia might not be so easy. This is because of the depth the Eagles have, meaning that free agents feel it will be harder to stay with a team with such quality depth to compete with.

That being said, it appears the Eagles still managed to sign some quality players that could make the roster in the fall. All of these signings are as of yet unconfirmed by the Eagles themselves. However, these players have most likely been signed by the Philadelphia Eagles.

The undrafted rookie free agent signings

Josh Adams, RB, Notre Dame

Jeremiah Briscoe, QB, Sam Houston State

Asantay Brown, S, Western Michigan

Aaron Evans, OT, UCF

Danny Ezechukwu, LB, Purdue

Jordon Gandy, WR, Murray State

Bruce Hector, DT, South Florida

Anthony Mahoungou, WR, Purdue

Ryan Neal, S, Southern Illinois

Joe Ostman, DE, Central Michigan

Ian Park, OG, Slippery Rock

Jeremy Reaves, S, South Alabama

Stephen Roberts, S, Auburn

Brandon Silvers, QB, Troy

Chandon Sullivan, CB, Georgia State

Jordan Thomas, CB, Oklahoma

Toby Weathersby, OT, LSU

Which players have the best chance to make the roster?

Philadelphia Eagles undrafted rookie free agents

Stephen Roberts makes a tackle. (Photo from AL.com)

According to pre-draft grades, the best bets to potentially make the roster are Joe Ostman, Toby Weathersby, Stephen Roberts and Josh Adams. Roberts and Adams most likely have the best shot at making the roster because of the positions they play.

Roberts could become the third option at safety, much like Corey Graham was last year. His only current competition for that spot is Tre Sullivan. It will be interesting to see how that positional battle goes.

Adams is a big power runner, and the Eagles usually carry five running backs on their roster. This means there are two spots behind Jay Ajayi, Darren Sproles and Corey Clement. Adams, Wendell Smallwood and Donnel Pumphrey will be fighting for those spots.

Smallwood has been an injury risk and has not showed enough when he has been on the field. The Eagles would be best served going another route. Pumphrey was too undersized last year and got stashed on IR all year as a result. Pumphrey was supposed to be a Darren Sproles replacement, but he disappointed last year in training camp and preseason.

Honestly, Adams could beat out both of them if the Eagles only wanted to carry one more running back. The fact that they usually carry two makes him a very good bet to make the roster.

Which players will have the hardest time making the roster?

Philadelphia Eagles undrafted rookie free agents

Jeremiah Briscoe (Photo from the Houston Chronicle)

The players who will have the toughest time making the roster are the two quarterbacks Jeremiah Briscoe and Brandon Silvers. The Eagles have established starters and backups in Carson Wentz and Nick Foles. They also have another quarterback they are interested in developing in Nate Sudfeld.

The presence of Silvers and Briscoe on the roster can amount to Philadelphia wanting to have some extra arms around for offseason practices and training camp. If one of them impresses, there is an outside chance they could land on the practice squad or as the third option at quarterback.

Overview of the undrafted rookie free agents

Most of the players signed will not even make the final roster. The Eagles are just utilizing all the possible avenues to bring talent onto the roster. While most of the players that they have signed will not make the roster, who knows? There could be a great player that just needs a little time and a chance in this group.

 

Featured image from USA TODAY

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Indianapolis Colts 2018 NFL Draft profile

The 2018 NFL Draft is now under a month away, which means that Draftmas is back. Draftmas will take a look at each NFL team heading into the NFL Draft, what their needs are and who they could be targeting. You will find it here. Draftmas will continue with the Indianapolis Colts 2018 NFL Draft profile.

Summary

The Colts have had a rough couple years and last year showed just how many flaws this team has. Andrew Luck didn’t play all year and his status for next year is uncertain. They went 4-12 in 2017 which was good enough for third in the AFC South. Jacoby Brissett came over in a trade right before the season and was a pleasant surprise. With the trade to the Jets, which was a steal, they have shown that they are fine with starting Brissett until Luck returns.

The Colts showed that Anthony Castonzo, TY Hilton, Luck (if he ever plays again, sorry Colts fans), Jack Doyle, Malik Hooker, Mathias Farley and Jabaal Sheard are worth building around. Other than that every position could use an upgrade or two. They have been pretty quiet this offseason, even though they need major upgrades, only resigning some backup players and signing Eric Ebron to go alongside Jack Doyle.

One major area of struggle for the Colts was the offensive line. As mentioned before Castonzo was a pretty solid tackle last year, outside of that this unit was not good. They will hope that Ryan Kelly, a former first-round pick, can stay healthy and prove he was worth the selection. They gave up 56 sacks as a unit in 2017, which would kill drives constantly.

This team did not do a whole lot right last year overall, as their offense looked anemic at times and their defense got beat at just about every level. They are in full rebuild right now as they let a lot of older players walk. This draft is going to be very important for them.

Picks and Needs

After what can only be called a steal of a trade for the third overall pick to the Jets the Colts have positioned themselves well in this draft and even got a bit for next years. They go in with nine picks:

First round (1 pick): 6

Second round (3): 36, 37, 49

Third round (1): 67

Fourth round (1): 104

Fifth round (1): 140

Sixth round (1): 178

Seventh round (1): 221

Offensive Needs:

Wide Receiver – The Colts still have T.Y. Hilton and not much else. Luck and Brissett need someone else to get the ball to in order for T.Y. to stop being double covered constantly.

Offensive Line – They should take the best offensive lineman they can get. Remember, 56 sacks led the league last season.

Image result for marlon mack

Courtesy of: SB Nation

Running Back – Frank Gore is gone and Marlon Mack has shown flashes, but a lot of teams have two good running backs these days and the Colts have maybe one.

Defensive Needs:

EDGE – Last season they only had 25 sacks which was second last in the league. With a switch to a 4-3 defense they will need someone disruptive up front.

Linebacker – There was not a whole lot going on with this group either. John Simon and Jon Bostic weren’t bad but also weren’t anything to write home about. Jabaal Sheard was mostly an edge rusher so he could go either way.

Cornerback – Vontae Davis is sadly gone. So too is Rashaan Melvin. Quincy Wilson is getting better but will definitely need some help on the other side.

Targets

First Round:

Pick No. 6: Bradley Chubb, DE/OLB, N.C. State

Courtesy of: si.com

As stated before the Colts need to put more pressure on the quarterback and there is probably no one better at this than Chubb. Even with a trade down it is likely the Colts will get exactly who they have been looking for. He is fast and has great size at 6’4″ 276 pounds. He is a freak athlete and will give many opposing tackles a tough time as he is able to get around them or go inside.

His speed is going to be key in a division where all of the starting quarterbacks, Mariota, Watson and Bortles are not afraid to use their legs. Keeping them contained, even on his side of the ball, will allow for players like Jabaal Sheard to come up and make big plays.

Second Round:

Pick No. 36: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame

It is odd to see a player of his caliber still here, but many experts have him falling and some even have him as the fourth or fifth best tackle in the draft. That being said, McGlinchey boasts great technique and is able to handle either right or left tackle after getting plenty of experience from starting the last three years.

Castonzo playing opposite of McGlinchey would give the Colts two nice bookends for their offensive line. This would limit sacks which is especially important, as the Colts can only be competitive if Andrew luck is able to stay on the field. It is likely that this pick would be a great start to the overhaul this offensive line needs.

Pick No. 37: Braden Smith, OG, Auburn

Courtesy of: AL.com

Guess what? The Colt get to pick again and here is another chance to upgrade the offensive line, specifically at guard. While some may have him going later there is a significant dropoff in guard talent after him. Losing out on a chance to improve an area of significant need would be a crime.

Smith is very strong as he did 35 reps at the combine, 11 more than McGlinchey. He will be a formidable presence in the middle for this offensive line. Scouts and others worry about his quick twitch movements and balance as he allows for defenders to get in on him. It may not be a sexy pick, but Colts fans will be happy when they see Luck upright and healthy throughout the season.

Pick No. 49: Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia

It seems possible that Chubb will go before this, but if not he should fit right in. Before his injury Chubb was seen as a star in the making. This is still possible, but he is not nearly as explosive as he was before. He will have to rely on the fact that teams will be looking for the Colts to pass first. This will allow him the chance to be a quiet 1,000 yard rusher.

Chubb also fits in well with the way the NFL is moving with two running back systems. Mack can handle passing situations and some running downs to keep Chubb from overworking. Also, now the Colts have the Chubb cousins.

Third Round:

Pick No. 67: D.J. Chark, WR, LSU

There are some nice wideouts that could compliment T.Y. Hilton in the seconnd, third and possibly even fourth rounds this year and Chark is one of them. Hilton is much smaller at 5’9 and he gets double teamed, but is still able to put up big numbers. Chark would give the Colts a bigger option down the field at 6’3 and in the endzone while taking a defender off of Hilton.

Conclusion

The Indianapolis Colts need a ton of work. They are absent of talent at some pretty important positions. With Luck coming back and five picks in the first three rounds this team has the chance to start heading in the right direction.

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Detroit Lions Offensive Line

Detroit Lions offensive line preview 2018

Championship teams are built in the trenches. On defense, the goal is to pressure the quarterback. Offensively, the goal is to open running lanes and keep the quarterback’s jersey clean.

General manager Bob Quinn saw this as a major need last offseason. He shored up the right side of the line with guard T.J. Lang and tackle Rick Wagner. With all signs pointing to the Lions moving on from center, Travis Swanson, the interior offensive line is likely to be a position Quinn focuses on in the draft or free agency.

coaching and outlook

There is a lot of optimism surrounding the offensive line coach heading into this coming season. Jeff Davidson is coming in from Denver as the new offensive line coach for the Lions. He will take over a group that allowed 47 sacks in 2017 and finished last in rushing.

Davidson also has a Patriots connection. He is one of the best in the league at getting the most out of the offensive line. Davidson has spent 13 seasons as either an offensive coordinator or the offensive line coach. In those 13 seasons, his teams averaged the 10th most yards per carry in the league. In six of these seasons, Davidson’s offense finished in the top three in rushing.

Another stat Lions fans have heard constantly is how they have struggled to have a back reach 100 yards in a single game. Let us put this stat into perspective. Davidson had 67 players run for 100 yards in those aforementioned 13 seasons. During these same seasons, Detroit only produced 13 players with 100 yards in a game.

The time is now for the Lions to make a real run at a championship. Matthew Stafford is in his prime. Time will tell how many years he has left, but as we have seen recently in Seattle, windows for championships close fast.

In Stafford’s first nine seasons, he has only had seven 100-yard rushers. Compare that to Blake Bortles in Jacksonville, who had the benefit of seven in 2017 alone. Jared Goff was fortunate enough to have seven this past season as well. Think about what Stafford could do with the offensive balance Bortles and Goff experienced this past season.

ol on the roster

Tackles

Detroit Lions Offensive line

Taylor Decker (Photo by Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press)

Taylor Decker headlines this group, as he appears to be a franchise left tackle. Surgery forced him to miss more than the first half of the season. This ultimately hindered Detroit’s ability to establish chemistry across the line.

The Lions tried desperately to fill the void left by this injury. Attempts included Brian Mihalik, Greg Robinson and Corey Robinson. Mihalik is young and raw with exceptional arm length. He gained a lot of experience, but being on a roster with Decker and RickWagner will make it hard for him to supplant one of the bookends. Wagner came over from Baltimore last season, signing a five-year, $47.5 million contract.

According to a ranking system created by Duke Manyweather, an NFL1000 offensive line scout, Wagner finished as the 15th best right tackle with an overall grade of 74/100. He rated higher in run blocking than pass protection.

After missing three games, he was able to return in Week 17 against the Packers. Wagner’s return helped the Lions complete the season sweep over Green Bay.

Manyweather rated Decker as the ninth best left tackle in 2017. This rating is impressive considering missed time due to previously mentioned injuries.

Guards and centers

Detroit Lions Offensive Line

Graham Glasgow (Photo by Wesley Hill, Getty Images)

Graham Glasgow and T.J. Lang are the leading returners to this group. They both produced well for the Lions, and Glasgow will be sliding to center, replacing Travis Swanson.

This permanent position change should be continuity to the interior offensive line. It also brings about a big question: Who will be the starting left guard?

Competition is healthy for a position group, especially one regarded as the worst in the league. Expect current Lions, Joe Dahl and Emmett Cleary to compete for the starting left guard spot.

Therefore, it is highly likely to see an interior lineman added during free agency and or the draft. NFL1000 ratings placed Lang at 14th and Glasgow at 24th among all guards in the NFL.

what to expect

There is a lot to be excited about for Lions fans with the offensive line. Decker, Lang, Glasgow and Wagner all rank in the top 25 at their respective positions. With Coach Davidson bringing his expertise to a group of highly rated individuals, he ultimately faces two challenges. The first is to find a left guard. The second, and possibly the tallest task, is getting this unit to gel and build on chemistry to get their individual play to translate to a cohesive unit. The Lions could look to add someone in free agency like Andrew Norwell from the Panthers or a Jonathan Cooper from Dallas.

As for the draft, look for the Lions to add some depth or grab a starter (if no significant moves are made in free agency). Guard Quenton Nelson out of Notre Dame is a top 10 pick, so the Lions will most likely not have a shot at him.

However, the Lions could take Billy Price (Ohio State), Isaiah Wynn (Georgia), Braden Smith (Auburn) or a sleeper late-round pick such as Sean Welsh (Iowa). The success of the 2018 Detroit Lions will come down to how quickly Matt Patricia and Davidson can get this group to come together and work as a unit.

As much as Lions fans are hoping for a quick turnaround, Matthew Stafford must share the enthusiasm and optimism.

 

Featured image by Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press

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2018 SEC Tournament preview

The SEC arguably boosted its stock the most during the 2017 NCAA Tournament with three teams reaching the Elite Eight. This trend continued in the 2018 season as an Auburn program riddled in scandal claimed a share of the SEC regular season title for the first time since 1999. A Kentucky team that reeled in six five-star recruits only finished fourth in league standings. This shows how deep this conference is and how unforgiving the schedule and competition can be.

Which team will scratch and claw their way to the top? Let’s dive in and find out.

overview

This SEC season was defined by Auburn and Tennessee. The Tigers jumped out to a blazing 10-1 conference record before cooling down substantially. Bryce Brown and his streaky jump shot led the way all season for Auburn. The Vols settled down after a rocky start to conference play and have won four straight entering the SEC Tournament. The SEC preseason media poll projected Tennessee to finish in 13th out of 14 teams.

Florida and Kentucky, the two favorites heading into the season, endured a season maligned by inconsistencies. Florida’s offense appeared unstoppable when its three point shooting was on point, but lost and confused when it was not. Kentucky, a preseason season national title favorite, never seemed to fully come together as so many John Calipari coached teams do down the stretch of the season.

Missouri’s conference championship hopes were dashed when top-three recruit Michael Porter Jr. went down in the first game of the season with a back injury. However, Missouri still battled its way to a fifth place finish. Alabama drew preseason intrigue due to the presence of flashy, confident freshman Collin Sexton. Sexton, along with freshman John Petty, could not vault the Crimson Tide into serious contention at any point during the season.

favorites

Admiral Schofield led Tennessee to a share of the SEC regular season title (Wade Payne/Associated Press).

Auburn dominated the SEC for about three quarters of the season. Coach Bruce Pearl’s blistering and relentless attack often left opponents dazed and confused. Pearl encouraged aggressively pushing the ball on offense, often seeking an early three point shot attempt in transition. Bryce Brown spearheaded the Tigers’s attack, averaging 16.4 points on 41 percent shooting.

Mustapha Heron added 16.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game for the Tigers. Heron’s ability to create plays off the dribble helped create space for Auburn’s shooters on the wings.

Tennessee was led by the two-headed of Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams all season long. Schfield averaged 13.5 points and 6.1 rebounds while Williams added 15.6 points and 5.8 rebounds. Tennessee, winners of four straight to end the season, will look to continue to build off of that momentum in the SEC Tournament. Schofield, in particular, has been hot, pouring in 25, 24, and 23 points respectively in each of his last three games.

darkhorse: Arkansas

2018 SEC Tournament Preview

Daryl Macon has Arkansas primed to shock the SEC world (Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports).

Many pundits are clamoring about how the possible return of Michael Porter Jr. will magically vault Missouri into a dangerous darkhorse role both in this tournament and the NCAA Tournament. However, there is not guarentee Porter will play this tournament, and if he does, no one knows how effective he will be. Porter is returning from back surgery and will most likely struggle in his first few games back.

Meanwhile, the Razorbacks are seemingly rounding into shape as the SEC Tournament begins. Arkansas will enter the tournament winners of six of their past eight games. Led by two dynamic scorers in Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon, the Razorbacks are capable of shooting any opponent out of the gym.

Both Macon and Barford each average over 17 points per game and shoot 43.8 and 43.4 percent from three-point range as well. Arkansas, as a team, shoots at a 48.1 percent from the field and 40.2 percent from three.

Arkansas can be derailed by poor free throw shooting. As a team, the Razorbacks only shoot 67 percent from the pinstripe. Poor fundamentals such as missing free throws can lead to blown late leads and disappointing exits in single-elimination tournaments.

The Champion: Auburn

2018 SEC Tournament Preview

Bryce Brown is capable of shooting Auburn to an SEC Tournament title (Adam Sparks/Scout.com).

Auburn seemingly found its offensive legs once again in its much-needed 79-70 victory over South Carolina. Down by eight points early in the match, Bryce Brown awoke out of hibernation to score 29 points on 60 percent shooting. Brown’s primary offensive game stems from his ability to hit open three pointers in transition. Brown could not buy a bucket during Auburn’s brutal stretch of losing three of four before defeating South Carolina.

In its first game, Auburn will take on either Texas A&M or Alabama. A&M defeated Alabama in its final game to end the season. Even though both of these teams found a way to take down Auburn during the regular season, Auburn’s offense is clicking at the right time and this should be enough to outlast any push from these teams.

Auburn would then take on Kentucky and then Tennessee in the final. If Auburn’s shooting begins to falter, a team like the Vols could take advantage by controlling the pace of play and pounding the rock inside. Look for Brown and Heron to take over in this tournament on the offensive end and lead Auburn to a title.

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Two teams that need to right the ship heading into postseason play

As Selection Sunday and the ensuing madness that occurs afterwards draws closer, nerves and excitement have slowly begun to reach a boiling point. Pundits and experts have already started predicting contenders and sleepers for the big dance. Meanwhile, struggling teams have less than three weeks to determine how to break out of their respective funks.

So much is made of momentum in sports, especially for March Madness. While momentum is not the deciding factor of a possible tournament run (see South Carolina and Oregon last season), it certainly does not hurt to establish a sense of urgency by making a run in conference tournament play.

There are several teams across the country that need to right the ship during conference tournament play. Let’s take a look at a couple of teams that need to see an improvement of play in order to avoid an early exit during March Madness.

Texas Tech

Two Teams that need to right the ship heading into postseason play

Keenan Evans’s health is key for Texas Tech this postseason (John Weast/Getty Images).

Coach Chris Beard has done a marvelous job in turning this Texas Tech team into a contender this season. He rightfully deserves to be in contention for Coach of the year. However, with that being said, Beard has the unenviable task of getting the Red Raiders back on track. Tech has lost four straight games, blowing their opportunity to capture the program’s first Big 12 regular season title.

The Red Raiders seemingly lost their way in their 59-57 loss at Baylor. Keenan Evans, Tech’s star senior guard, did not play in the second half as he left the game with turf toe. Without Evans running the offense, Beard’s squad lacked a consistent scoring threat at the end of the game. Texas Tech’s blueprint for winning games all season long as been to play tough, gritty defense while scoring through Evans.

Much to the horror of Tech fans across the nation, the play of Evans was severely affected by his turf toe. Evans’s productivity dropped off significantly while playing through the turf toe. In Tech’s 79-71 loss to Oklahoma State, Evans was limited to 2 points on 14 percent shooting from the field. In Tech’s biggest game of the season, a 74-72 loss to Kansas, Evans struggled again, only scoring 6 points on 17 percent shooting.

It may seem illogical to place so much weight on the shoulders of one player, but Evans is a semi-finalist for the Naismith award. A healthy offense entirely alters the method opposing teams approach defending this Tech offense. With turf toe, Evans has to wear a different shoe size to increase support and that has limited his explosiveness and ability to create separation off the ball. While other Tech players such as freshmen Jarrett Culver and Zhaire Smith, Beard needs Evans healthy if Texas Tech wants to make a run in March Madness.

Auburn

Much like Chris Beard, Coach Bruce Pearl has masterfully crafted Auburn into a surprise contender this season. Despite losing Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley, Pearl has coached Auburn to an impressive 12-5 SEC record and 24-6 non-conference mark. However, after Auburn’s 76-66 win over Kentucky, Auburn has dropped three of four.

Auburn lost sophomore Anfernee McLemore to a season-ending injury in their 84-75 loss at South Carolina. This was a crucial blow to a team that lacked front court depth before the injury. McLemore, a 6-foot-7 forward, played a crucial role in defending the rim for Auburn. While he was not an offensive juggernaut, his size, strength and athleticism on defense allowed Pearl to play small ball.

This injury has forced Pearl to turn to freshman Chuma Okeke for increased playing time. Okeke played well in Auburn’s 72-66 loss to Florida, scoring 12 points and hauling in 10 rebounds. However, he struggled to efficiently put the ball in the basket against Arkansas, scoring 5 points on 25 percent shooting.

The biggest problem Auburn has encountered of late has been the shooting inefficiency of Bryce Brown. In Auburn’s 91-82 loss to Arkansas, Brown only scored 12 points on 31 percent shooting. Brown struggled in Auburn’s loss to Florida as well, scoring 6 points on 25 percent shooting. Brown averages 15.9 points per game. If Auburn wants to make it out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, Brown needs to snap out of this shooting slump.

 

Featured image by Butch Dill/AP.

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NCAA preliminary bracket winners and losers

Winners and losers from the NCAA preliminary bracket

The NCAA Tournament selection committee, for the second straight year, revealed who the top 16 seeds would be if the season ended this past Saturday. The committee deemed Virginia as the top seed of the Tournament despite its home loss to Virginia Tech. Villanova, Purdue and Xavier rounded out the remaining No. 1 seeds.

South: 1. Virginia, 2. Cincinnati, 3. Michigan State and 4. Tennessee.

East: 1. Villanova, 2. Duke, 3. Texas Tech and 4. Ohio State.

West: 1. Purdue, 2. Kansas, 3. North Carolina and 4. Arizona.

Midwest: 1. Xavier, 2. Auburn, 3. Clemson and 4. Oklahoma.

Let’s take a look at who the winners and losers of the committee’s judgement were this year.

Winner: Cincinnati

NCAA preliminary bracket winners and losers

Junior guard Jacob Evans III looks to lead the Cincinnati Bearcats to a strong finish. (Photo by Laurence Kesterson/AP).

The Bearcats are sitting at 23-2 and in first place in the American Athletic Conference. While this record is impressive, Cincinnati has played a weak schedule thus far.

The Bearcats dropped both of their premier non-conference matchups against Xavier and Florida back in December. They defeated UCLA, Temple and Houston, but none of those teams are considered legitimate contenders come March.

The fact that the committee already has Cincinnati as a No. 2 seed shows that they are high on the Bearcats moving forward. Coach Mick Cronin’s squad has a huge opportunity to further bolster its stock with upcoming matchups against Wichita State and Houston.

If Cincinnati can continue its winning ways and another No. 1 team crumbles down the stretch (possibly either Villanova or Xavier), the Bearcats could steal a No. 1 seed in the tournament.

Loser: Texas tech

The Red Raiders are poised to capture their first Big 12 regular season championship ever, yet they are only ranked as a No. 3 seed. Coach Chris Beard probably feels somewhat disrespected by this choice, and he has every right to feel that way. The Big 12 is the deepest conference in college basketball this season, sporting four teams in the AP top 25 rankings and three in the top 16 above.

Texas Tech sports an impressive 9-3 Big 12 record that includes a one-point victory over West Virginia (back when the Mountaineers were No. 2 in the nation) and a 12-point win at Kansas. What hurt the Red Raiders was their weak non-conference schedule (their only impressive victory coming against Nevada) coupled with a stretch of Big 12 conference play where they lost three of four.

Regardless of their spot at the moment, Beard’s upstart team has ample opportunities to move up to a No. 2 seed and possibly even a No. 1 if they win out. However, this is easier said than done as Tech has rematches against Kansas, Oklahoma and West Virginia lined up in the future.

WINNER: THE BIG EAST

While the Big East only has two teams in the top 16, those two teams each captured a No. 1 seed. Villanova and Xavier have slowly developed a fun rivalry this season and have a highly anticipated rematch in Ohio slated for this Saturday. Even more important is that both squads have a significant chance to maintain their spot in the tournament over the next few weeks, especially if Xavier can knock off Villanova this weekend.

The revamped Big East has failed to live up the hype and intensity of the old school conference that featured schools like Syracuse, Louisville, UConn, Pittsburgh and Georgetown. However, the Big East has been fairly competitive this season, both in and out of conference.

Competitive teams will not return the Big East to its former glory, but sending two teams into the tournament this season would be a significant step.

LOSER: THE PAC-12

Last season, the conference of champions (as Bill Walton would put it) had three teams vying for top seeds in the tournament at this point in the season. The season resulted in Arizona, Oregon and UCLA going to the Sweet 16 and Oregon making it to the Final Four.

This season has been much less kind to the Pac-12. Arizona entered the season as a national champion contender with top recruit Deandre Ayton coming to town. Coach Sean Miller also hauled in three other top 100 recruits per ESPN in Ira Lee, Emmanuel Akot and Brandon Randolph. Now the Wildcats might be the most disappointing team in the nation up to this point.

Neither UCLA or Oregon have the depth or firepower compared to their respective teams last season. USC entered the season as a dark horse contender for the Final Four, but have seemingly failed to recover from the offseason’s FBI investigation. Needless to say, Arizona is the Pac-12’s best shot at back-to-back Final Four appearances.

 

Featured image by Stan Szeto/USA Today Sports

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Auburn ready to silence doubters

The No. 11 Auburn Tigers have not captured a victory at the Pavilion in nearly ten years. After a strong second half from junior guard Bryce Brown, the Tigers stormed out of Oxford, Mississippi with a 79-70 comeback win over rival Ole Miss. Coach Bruce Pearl’s team now sits at 8-1 in SEC conference play, holding a two game lead over second place Kentucky. Let’s take a look at why the Tigers have defied expectations this season, and why they are equipped to continue to defy doubters come March.

 

Second Half Dominance

 

Mustapha Heron soars in for a basket (Crystal LoGiudice/Associated Press).

A common theme for Pearl’s Tigers this season has been breaking away from inferior competition in the second half of games. In Auburn’s 79-65 victory over Georgia, the Bulldogs jumped out to a 40-26 lead at halftime, holding Auburn to 25 percent shooting from the field. Pearl, as he has done all season, engineered the necessary adjustments on both offense and defense during the break. This led to an offensive explosion by the Tigers, with Brown pouring in 25 of his 28 points in the second half and sophomore guard Mustapha Heron adding 14 points.

Auburn has scored 50 points in the second half eight times this season with five of them coming against SEC opponents. Pearl has credited his players for having the willpower and resiliency to close out games. Brown has consistently shown the ability to turn on a second gear on both ends of the floor at will this season. Auburn has the unique blend of calmness, intensity and belief in one another which allows them to climb out of significant deficits in any situation and slam the door on any comeback it faces.

 

Nine Man Rotation

Unlike some of the other top contenders in the nation, Pearl has the ability to roll out a nine man rotation every game. This depth allows Pearl to create mismatches against any line-up. All nine players average at least 13 minutes per game and this allows Pearl to wear down opponents as each game progresses. It also allows Auburn to ramp up the on and off ball pressure on defense, understanding that they can withstand foul trouble to any certain player.

 

Come postseason play, teams that roll out primarily six or seven man rotations feel the effect of tired legs. Pearl is unafraid to ride the players who produce for him on a game-by-game basis. This depth provides Pearl with versatility in both creating game plans and adjusting match-ups mid-game.

 

The Emergence of Bryce Brown 

 

 

Bryce Brown silences the crowd (Samantha Baker/AP Photo)

After Auburn suspended both Austin Wiley, a former five-star recruit, and Danjel Purifoy indefinitely for their potential involvement in a federal court investigation against former Auburn assistant coach Chuck Person. Most pundits wrote off Pearl’s squad as both Wiley and Purifoy were potential starters for Auburn this season. In order to have a successful season, Pearl needed one of his upperclassmen to step up and lead his team.

Brown has averaged 16.6 points per game, more than double than his average last season. He has been lethal from behind the arc as well, shooting 40.3 percent from three point range this season. In addition to his dominance of the stat sheet, Brown has been the heart and soul of this Tiger team, sparking second half runs with his play-making ability on and off the ball.

 

Defense Wins Championships

Perhaps Pearl’s most impressive accomplishment on the season is the turnaround of Auburn’s defense. According to KenPom rankings, Auburn’s adjusted defensive efficiency ranks 25th in the nation. Pearl’s defense is predicated on heavy on ball pressure with the intention of forcing turnovers. This style of play allows Auburn to rattle its opponents while slowly burning out their energy.

This is where Auburn’s depth plays to its advantage. Pearl can utilize all nine of his rotational players to maintain this intensity for all 40 minutes of playing time. He can continually send in fresh legs to stabilize the pressure as Auburn’s opponents slowly burn out.

Verdict

Auburn has defied expectations all season long by taking care of business against inferior opposition. However, with games against Kentucky, Alabama, and at Florida remaining, the Tigers must figure out how to consistently show up for all 40 minutes. Pearl’s squad has a chance to solidify a number two seed in the big dance if they continue to manhandle SEC competition. Based on the way the Tigers have rallied around each other this season, anything is possible.

 

Featured image by Rogelio V. Solis/AP

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The Need for an Eight Team Playoff

(USA Today)

(USA Today)

There must be an eight team playoff in college football. This college football season has been the best of any in recent history. There is constant rhetoric on who should have been in the playoffs and who shouldn’t.  There is constant questions on who is capable of challenging the unbeatable Alabama Crimson Tide.

Alabama has clearly looked like the best team in the country, but games are not won on paper and anything can happen once the ball is kicked off. There are upsets every week and Week 11 showed it more than ever. For the first time since 1985, the second, third and fourth ranked teams all lost on the same day. It was madness and chaotic and we all loved it! College football still has a little guy, Western Michigan, that went undefeated and gets absolutely no love at all. Their schedule is blamed for their low rankings at the end and throughout the year. There is an issue with the current format of a four team playoff.

College football is exciting and a four team playoff system was a great start, but we want, no, we need more. There needs to be an eight team college playoff. Part of the reason the college game went to a playoff system was because the BCS system didn’t allow the nation to see a true champion. There was rarely a year in which the third ranked team in the BCS didn’t have a case to be in the national championship. This year is no different. As mentioned previously, Western Michigan went undefeated and has to settle for playing in the Cotton Bowl. This isn’t the first time a small school had been disrespected by the polls.

The Little Guy

(Photo: Steve Grayson/WireImage)

(Photo: Steve Grayson/WireImage)

Why can’t the little guy get a chance to upset Goliath? There are plenty examples of teams who did not have a snowball’s chance in Hell to win against a college football giant, but somehow found a way. In 2006, Boise State won one of the greatest games in college football history.

The 2006 Boise State team was a member of the Western Athletic Conference, which is now extinct in football. It was a conference that was considered one of the worst in the country.  Boise State had two big non-conference wins that season. The Broncos beat Oregon State 42-12 and they also won at Utah 36-3. Boise finished the season undefeated, but the BCS only ranked Boise at eighth. Boise State was never considered for the national championship because of their weak conference. They had to settle for playing number 10 ranked Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl which became an instant classic.

To sum up the game, with a 1:02 left in a 28-28 tie, Boise State quarterback Jared Zabransky threw an interception to Marcus Walker who ran the interception back 34 yards for a touchdown to give Oklahoma a 35-28 lead. Fast forward to Boise State’s next possession with 18 seconds remaining. It was fourth and 18. Boise State ran the famous hook and lateral that worked for a touchdown. The game was tied at 35 with just seven seconds remaining.

Oklahoma got the ball first in overtime and Adrian Peterson ran it in for a 25 yard touchdown to give Oklahoma a 42-35 lead. Boise was able to answer with a touchdown and head coach Chris Petersen decided to go for two. Boise State ran the statue of liberty in for the two-point conversion and the win, 43-42. The Broncos finished the season with a perfect 13-0 record and the only team left undefeated that season.

Continuing with the theme of small conference schools being snubbed, the next example is the 2008 Utah Utes who were in the Mountain West. Utah won at (24) Michigan, then beat (11) TCU and (14) BYU at home. They finished ranked sixth in the final BCS rankings and had to settle for playing in the Sugar Bowl against (4) Alabama. Utah easily won the Sugar Bowl 31-17 even though they were 10 point underdogs. They finished the year as the only undefeated team in the country, but were not the national champions.

(ESPN/The Associated Press)

(ESPN/The Associated Press)

That same year Boise State finished the regular season undefeated as well, and was ranked ninth in the BCS. The Broncos only had one impressive win that season in which they won at Oregon 37-32. It was the famous LeGarrette Blount punch game. That year Boise didn’t even get to play in a BCS Bowl game. They played TCU in the Poinsettia Bowl and lost 17-16.

2009 left the BCS in chaos at the end of the year as there were five undefeated teams: Alabama, Texas, Cincinnati, TCU and Boise State. The national championship game ended up being Alabama versus Texas. The other three undefeated teams were not given the chance to play for a national championship.

Texas had gone 3-0 against the top 25 with only one of those wins coming on the road. Cincinnati had gone 4-0 against the top 25 with three of those wins coming on the road. Texas was chosen because of their name. The small schools always get the short end of the stick when being listed with the best of the best.

(https://www.reddit.com/r/CFB/comments/3ucxld/week_13_trash_talk_thursday_trashgiving/)

(https://www.reddit.com/r/CFB/comments/3ucxld/week_13_trash_talk_thursday_trashgiving/)

The last example of small schools from small conferences comes from 2010 from TCU. TCU won at (24) Oregon State to open the season. The Horned Frogs only had one other ranked game which came on the road against (6) Utah. TCU demolished the Utes 47-7. In the end their wins weren’t impressive enough as they finished the season in the BCS ranked third. The two teams that finished ahead of them, Auburn and Oregon, were both undefeated as well. TCU ended up in the Rose Bowl against (4) Wisconsin and won 21-19 to finish the season undefeated.

They Can’t Beat The Big Boys. Or Can They?

(http://www.bendbulletin.com/slideShows?layout=2&storyId=1430295)

(http://www.bendbulletin.com/slideShows?layout=2&storyId=1430295)

There is a common theme with all these undefeated small schools. Utah, TCU and Boise State were almost always involved. Utah has had two undefeated seasons in the past 13 seasons and accomplished both of their undefeated seasons in the Mountain West Conference. The Utes ended up leaving for the Pac-12 because it is a power five conference. TCU finished with their only undefeated season in the Mountain West as well, but left for the Big 12, a power five conference. They left because of the disrespect year in and year out towards the Mountain West Conference. The last of these three teams, Boise State, has had three undefeated regular seasons in their last 11 seasons.

Typically a program this consistent would have played in a national championship, but Boise has yet to play for one. There is a bias against teams not in the power five and Western Michigan is the snub this season. The most common response from someone who argues that these teams don’t deserve the shot because of their small conferences has one of two responses.

The first is “let’s see if they do this again next year and next year if they are undefeated they should be in.” There are two problems with that reaction and the first is the team that is undefeated this year is a completely different team than they will be the next year. The second issue is that statement has proven to be false because Boise State had three undefeated regular seasons in four years and never got the chance.

(http://www.nobodywinsontheblue.com/2013/08/2013-boise-state-football-preview.html)

(http://www.nobodywinsontheblue.com/2013/08/2013-boise-state-football-preview.html)

Another common response is “Oh they would get blown out by Alabama and other big schools”. That statement is once again false as there are countless examples of smalls schools upsetting the goliath schools. Above there were examples listed, including Utah beating Alabama, and here are some more: In 2010 FCS member Jacksonville State beat Ole Miss 49-48, FCS James Madison won at (13) Virginia Tech 21-16 and perhaps the biggest upset of all time, 2007 Appalachian State beat (5) Michigan 34-32.

All these small schools pulled off what many believed to be impossible but the game is played on the field and not on paper, or by the amount of stars a recruiting class has. Western Michigan might be able to beat Alabama, Clemson, or Ohio State but everyone assumes they have no chance because of history. Yes, these programs have been national powers for decades but that doesn’t mean the little guy can’t hang, or win. An eight team playoff needs to be made with certain requirements similar to the ramifications in college basketball. These requirements are needed because of the mistakes made since the inception of the four team playoff.

Playoff Mistakes

The college football playoff started in 2014 and is only entering their third year. In 2014, college football fans were so happy to finally receive the playoff system that they had been so desperately asking for for almost a decade. Fans were so happy in fact, there was no chance it would be criticized in the first year, but they had set precedents in which would eventually make the committee look like hypocrites.

(http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/ncaaf/2014/12/02/college-football-playoff-projection-alabama-oregon-florida-state-tcu/19748763/)

(www.reddit.com)

In 2014, heading into conference championship week the rankings were as follows: (1) Alabama 11-1, (2) Oregon 11-1, (3) TCU 11-1, (4) Florida State 12-0, (5) Ohio State 11-1, and (6) Baylor 11-1. All six teams had won their game on championship week by wide margins. The final college football rankings finished with TCU dropping to sixth and Ohio State finishing in fourth, thus knocking TCU out of the college football playoff. The reasoning given by the committee stated that TCU did not win their conference therefore Ohio State deserved to be in. TCU and Baylor were both 8-1 in conference play, but Baylor beat TCU head to head 61-58.

Fast forward to this year where the playoff committee selected Ohio State over Penn State. Ohio State had one loss on the year to Penn State. Penn State had two losses to Pittsburgh and Michigan. Two years earlier the playoff committee favored Ohio State because they won a conference championship and yet this year left Penn State out who won head to head versus Ohio State, won the division in the BIG 10 in which Ohio State is in, and won the BIG 10 Championship. The college football committee that said conference championships matter two years earlier ignored that Ohio State didn’t win their conference.

Essentially the committee is saying head to head wins mean nothing, nor do conference titles after this year’s playoff selection. Subliminally they are saying whoever can bring in the most revenue will make the playoffs if they have a good year. If revenue matters that much then push it to an eight team playoff to create even more dollars.

In the first year, the college football playoff paid out 500 billion dollars to schools which was the largest payout ever, which improved in areas of 200 million from the final BCS season. In total there was a 63 percent increase in postseason revenue. Doubling the amount of teams in the playoff could essentially double the amount of money to be made with extra games of importance.

 

What Should an 8 Team Playoff Look Like?

(AP Images)

(AP Images)

If and when college football goes to an eight team playoff, there needs to be a few rules on who can make the playoffs. In the current system a conference championship means nothing and part of what has made college football great for the past 100 years is the thrill of winning the conference. In basketball, winning your conference give you an automatic bid to the tournament. Football should follow that model to an extent. There are 10 conferences plus four independent schools so with a six team playoff not everyone can automatically get a bid. Here is how college football should handle the eight team playoff that would make everyone happy.

If you win the conference championship of a power five conference (BIG 10, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC, ACC) you are guaranteed a spot in the eight team playoff. To accommodate for small schools and give them the chance they have earned, the sixth spot goes to the highest ranked team from the group of five conferences (AAC, Conference-USA, MAC, Sun-Belt, Mountain West). There would be two spots remaining and those spots should be At-Large bids given to the best two teams remaining in the country. This is what this year’s eight team playoff would look like in this format:

(1) SEC Champion: Alabama vs. (8) Group of 5: Western Michigan

(2) ACC Champion: Clemson vs. (7) Big 12 Champion: Oklahoma

(3) At-Large Bid: Ohio State vs. (6) At-Large Bid: Michigan

(4) Pac-12 Champion: Washington vs. (5) BIG 10 Champion: Penn State

(David Dermer / Associated Press)

(David Dermer / Associated Press)

This college football playoff would have the perfect amount of teams. Aside from the two At-Large bids, nobody can argue the selection of the other six teams. There will always be that argument of bubble teams and who is the most deserving bubble team. In this format some people would be mad that USC isn’t in because of how hot they were towards the end of the year. The simple solution is to tell USC, if you win your conference and you’ll be in.

 

This format doesn’t require a team to go undefeated. An early loss in the season would allow you a second chance to bounce back and win the conference. That can’t be said now. Penn State and Oklahoma won their conference and don’t get a shot to be the national champion. Western Michigan is told good job on going undefeated but your conference is weak, and so is you’re schedule so just take this Cotton Bowl bid. The four team format was a great start, but this eight team format would be the perfect way to crown a champion.

Eliminate College Conferences

Change. It is a simply spelt and pronounced word, but becomes complex when people start to deal with change. People run away from change out of fear. People usually grimace at the thought of change. Change is often looked at as a bad thing, but change can also be viewed as a great thing. Change is needed for growth and knowledge. Society finds it hard to change things that are long standing traditions, even if they do not work, are outdated, or completely wrong.

(Photo: Daniel Gluskoter, AP)

(Photo: Daniel Gluskoter, AP)

Take a look at the national anthem controversy for instance. Rather than admit its flaws, people are back-lashing against Colin Kaepernick. Why can’t we admit our faults as people or as a society? Because people hate change, whether it’s for the betterment of society or not. It is so much easier to go with the flow rather than to adapt.

It is time for a change in college football by eliminating any and all conferences. They are unnecessary in this day and age. They serve no purpose other than to please tradition. This is a highly unpopular opinion but hear me out before you grab your pitchforks.

Sep 3, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Wisconsin Badgers players celebrate defeating the LSU Tigers by doing the Lambeau Leap following the game at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-269730 ORIG FILE ID: 20160903_jla_sh5_731.jpg

(Sep 3, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Wisconsin Badgers players celebrate defeating the LSU Tigers by doing the Lambeau Leap following the game at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY)

The best teams need to play each other weekly regardless of their region or conference. Week one was one of the greatest weeks of college football ever. People are still glamorizing it because it was that epic. We saw great games all over such as (15) Houston defeating (3) Oklahoma. We saw Wisconsin upset (5) LSU. We saw unranked Texas A&M upset (16) UCLA. (18) Georgia beat (22) North Carolina. (2) Clemson had to sneak by unranked Auburn by six points. Fans saw Texas upset (10) Notre Dame in an overtime classic. On a Monday night game, (4) Florida State beat (11) Ole Miss.

Week two also saw some great programs matching up for exciting games. Arkansas was unranked and upset (15) TCU. (17) Tennessee beat Virginia Tech at Bristol Motor Speedway in the most attended game in college football history with 156,990 in attendance.

(http://www.usatoday.com/videos/sports/ncaaf/2016/11/18/houston-dashes-louisville's-playoff-hopes-upset/94060980/)

(http://www.usatoday.com)

Since the first two weeks there still have been great non-conference games even as teams have gotten into conference scheduling. In week six, Navy upset (6) Houston 46-40 in one of the most exciting back and forth games of the year. Most recently in week 12, the same Houston team that was upset by Navy, and was unranked, ended (5) Louisville’s shot at making the playoffs. They upset the Cardinals 36-10.

All these non conference match-ups with top programs facing off gave us excitement. Fans of football rejoiced over how fun it was to watch these teams play their hearts off to win these big time games. These games mean so much more with the rather new playoff system that determines a true champion in college football. Eliminating conferences would not eliminate rivalries because schools would be able to schedule 10-12 games completely how they want. The only thing each school would  have to do is make sure they schedule their rival schools annually.

(MARK ALMOND)

(MARK ALMOND)

These huge games are what the fans want to see. It doesn’t have to be just about the fans either. The college football playoff committee highly values a team’s strength of schedule. Nobody wants to see Alabama playing teams like Chattanooga or Kent State, teams in which they manhandled this year. Ohio State shouldn’t be playing teams like Rutgers, who happens to be in their conference, or Tulsa. Clemson games are boring when they play teams like South Carolina State or Syracuse. Imagine Clemson scheduling Alabama, Michigan, and Ohio State. If a team goes undefeated with a non-conference schedule as tough as this, there would be no question they deserve to be in the playoffs.

One of the biggest problems with the state of college football now is that great teams still get snubbed from making the playoffs. We need the best four teams in the country making the playoffs as long as it is a four team format. Maybe one day it will be a six or eight team format to eliminate more doubt, because there will always be a team or two on the bubble.

Currently the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Pac 12 and the Big 12 are known as the power five conferences. Most people can agree these are the top five conferences in the country, with each taking turns on where they rank within the power five.

In the current playoff system, one of the power five conferences will not be represented. A champion from one of these conferences will not have the chance to play in the playoffs and prove they are the best team in the country. This doesn’t account for a team without a conference, such as Notre Dame, who could go undefeated and cause two power five conferences to be left out of the playoffs. It also doesn’t account for a year like this one in which Ohio State and Michigan both look like teams capable of winning a national championship.

(http://www.sbnation.com/)

(http://www.sbnation.com/)

The first ever college football playoff left out TCU and/or Baylor in favor of Ohio State. The debate raged on about which of these teams should have gotten in. Ohio State then went on to win the National Championship as a four seed to quiet the debate, but how do we know, without a doubt, that TCU or Baylor would not have done the same? How do we know TCU or Baylor would’t have beat Ohio State? This is the problem with conferences. The Big Ten was assumed to be the better conference which is why the playoff committee chose to take Ohio State over one of the Big 12 teams. It was all because the Big 12 conference doesn’t have a conference championship game.

There is another issue at hand when it comes to conferences and the entire playoff format. There is always a talk of two teams getting into the playoffs from the same conference. If that were to happen, two conference champions from a power five conference would be left out. This was the problem with the BCS system that the playoffs were suppose to fix. The question that should be asked is how can you be a champion of the nation if you weren’t a champion of your conference? Essentially that is what happens if two SEC or two Big Ten teams get into a four team playoff. Eliminating conferences erases all the doubt. It makes teams schedule harder competition and creates more exciting games. If a school didn’t do it, they wouldn’t get into the playoffs.

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Conferences started mostly due to how difficult it was to travel when teams were still taking buses. Colleges can afford to fly their teams in today’s sports and traveling is not as hard as it use to be. What is the need for conferences then? The idea of no conferences at all is highly appealing in my eyes, but will not be popular to most. It would be revolutionary to eliminate conferences. The most remarkable changes in the world once were thought to be outlandish. Conferences are a tired idea that is outdated and the sport can become more exciting by eliminating them.

 

 

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